The last of the Grandparents: Becoming the middle generation

Last week my Grannie Janet moved from her house of 31 years to a rest home. What’s more, she’s moved cities after 48 years in the same place. From Central Christchurch to suburban Nelson. Not that it really matters what locale she is in these days as she doesn’t travel far by foot anymore. However she does know the Nelson area well, having emigrated there from England with her family at age 19. It is there she was married and had her only child, my Dad Mike, in 1954. She is now 93-year-old, and can get around with her walker over very short distances, only just. She is very blind, so her view hasn’t changed much from city to city. But it would be dismissive, assuming and unkind to say the move isn’t a big one, or that this kind of change in old age doesn’t make much difference to a person and their family. It really does.

Grannie and Granddaugher

Grannie was very involved with, and attached to her home in Christchurch, in the Avon Loop stretch of the river, which she named Sunset corner. She has a thing for naming houses, which I also like the notion of. Naming homes gives them bit of a personality, or character. As if they are beings in themselves, aside from their inhabitants. Grannie lived in the top right flat of four that she had had architecturally designed and built in 1982. They replaced an old villa that had sat on the site for decades. Despite having sold the three flats to other people, Grannie still thought of the surrounding grounds as hers. A botanist by profession, she was very keen to utilise every patch of soil on the section and did so with passion and care. Sometimes to the annoyance of her neighbours when she insisted on being party to the planting they did in their own fenced off plots. But over all, she had great relationships with her neighbours over the years, and participated in her wider community along Oxford Terrace, as an active member of the Avon Loop Planning Association.

Grannie has always had an interest in things botanical, as the daughter of a daffodil grower in Evesham, England. She formalised her knowledge and passion as a young women when studying a Diploma of Horticulture at Massey University in the first intake that allowed women on the course. She went on to work as a plant science demonstrator at Lincoln college in he 60’s and 70’s, and studied again, towards Landscape architecture after that. She was a member of the Botanical Society, Alpine Garden Society and a friend of the Botanic Gardens.

Along with several other community members, Grannie was really passionate about facilitating the reinstatement of native plants along the riverbank in the Avon Loop, and planting larger stabilising trees. She convinced the Christchurch City Council to plant two groups of Scenecio Greyii shrubs, who’s silvery colour shows up in car headlights around corners, to prevent cars running off the road.

My other grandparents, Elsie and Jack Locke, lived six doors down from her, so our whole family has a strong attachment to the Avon Loop area, and at the moment we are all quietly mourning Grannie leaving her home in our own ways, which for many people, and us particularly, spells the end of an era. I have been surprised by how much this change has affected me. She has lived at Sunset Corner our entire lives.  For my siblings and I, Grannie’s home was the last bastion of unchanged childhood normality, or familiarity we had. This is because in post earthquake Christchurch, almost every facet of our childhood stories and remembered landscapes have been changed in some way. The home we were born and raised in will be rebuilt and sold, the entire stretch of river that runs from that house to Grannies is severely damaged. The Avon Loop community has been red-zoned and largely abandoned as I write, which includes my parents home, our current family base. So old age or not, Grannie had to leave her place, which while still live-able sits on a potentially dangerous tilt, and the red-zoning means the entire Avon Loop must move on.

It is timely however, as her ailing health has made it untenable for her to live by herself. She began needing home help in 2004 following a 3rd hip operation and had come increasingly dependent on the home help and my parent’s daily assistance. But it was the earthquakes bought up the conversation that would have otherwise been very hard to broach. Due to the red zoning, the solution was not debatable. She had to leave.

For many months Grannie felt she was being unjustly thrown out of her home, which many elderly think as they are being shifted into a rest home. However Grannie’s resentment was aimed at the government’s post quake re-zoning plans, until she accepted that her health also necessitated the move. She is at peace with the shift now, but sad all the same. She has said to me a number of times that she is devastated to leave the home she had hoped to live out her days in, to leave my parents and move city. And like the rest of the community, heartbroken that it has all come to an end in such an abrupt and unexpected manor.

She has had remarkable innings however, a widower since 1954, Grannie has remained in her home far longer than most would at her age with her abilities. Her support has had a lot to do with it, but Grannie is also very stoic, fiercely independence and stubborn, which all help to keep one in their own home. I am very thankful that she remained there for the first 3 years of my daughter’s life, and I hope that she will have some memories of Great-Grannie at Sunset Corner.

Never again will we buzz the buzzer at Grannies and walk up the stairs to her living area to find her dozing in her chair, looking out over the cherry tree to the river. Grannie was a woman of habit and routine, and we will miss seeing her move slowly around her home, finding her way about, and gathering things to entertain her great-grandaughter during visits, or to make herself her daily cup-of-soup lunch. We will endeavor to keep the lemon drink cordial recipe alive, and in supply in her rest home. I have made it myself several times, but it is never quite the same as hers. Perhaps I need more habit and routine to get it just right.

Now that all her daily business is taken care of from morning to night in the home, I look forward to visiting Grannie in her new room and spending more time talking about family and listening to her old stories, than fussing about in her kitchen getting everything wrong and disrupting her routine.  She is a social woman, and will really enjoy the company there, and will no doubt have some more calories with each mouthful as well, cup-a-soups haven’t really cut the mustard all these years.

All this change has got me thinking about becoming the middle generation, as my parents have become the Grandparents, and Grannie travels towards the end of her road. This change is a major milestone in her life, and ours. She has left her home, which has prompted lots of reflection and discussion in our family. For me it has provided an opportunity to really think about her life. Of everything she has done and achieved. And most of all, her place in our family and the importance she holds as our oldest, most fragile and senior member. It is a nice time to think and talk together, while she is still around, because now one knows how much time is left.

Go well Grannie. See you in Nelson.

Grannie and Granddaugher